Transnet ponders Carlton Hotel makeover.

Posted On Tuesday, 12 November 2002 10:01 Published by
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When the Carlton Hotel was stripped of its furniture and fittings and mothballed four years ago, it seemed only a matter of time before the demolition team would move in.
By Stuart Graham

When the Carlton Hotel was stripped of its furniture and fittings and mothballed four years ago, it seemed only a matter of time before the demolition team would move in.

The hotel was brought to its knees as companies left town for safer and more pleasant surroundings such as Sandton and Midrand. But a team in charge of Johannesburg's landmark five-star hotel is now looking for ways to get the business running again.

Basil Brink, Propnet's manager for the hotel, says a market survey has been completed to determine the feasibility of converting a third of the building into a three-star hotel and the rest of the space into residential and office accommodation.

The hotel has over 200 rooms on 30 floors, but with most big businesses still avoiding the centre of town, it is unlikely it could maintain the accepted occupancy average of 60%.

'We looked at turning the hotel into offices, but it was unrealistic , mainly because it would involve tearing out all the bathrooms, which are attached to the bedrooms,' says Brink.

Transnet bought the Carlton Centre complex for R32-million in 1999 from Anglo American Properties. The complex features Africa's tallest office building at 50 stories and includes the hotel, a large multilevel shopping area and the city's biggest parking garage.

It was built in 1973 by a consortium of local and US-based developers and has come to symbolise confidence in Johannesburg.

'I remember that once it was the in-thing to say you were staying at the Carlton, but in the past few years it has became a bit of a cesspool,' says a Sandton businessman.

However, things have started to change. The city council has announced a number of projects to revitalise the city, including the Better Buildings Programme (to give certain buildings a facelift) and the Unsafe Buildings Programme (to demolish others).

Johannesburg executive mayor Amos Masondo has identified inner-city regeneration, crime prevention and the enforcement of by-laws as priorities for the city.

Companies like Avmin, Anglo American and now Transnet have spent millions on revitalising areas of the city in which they operate.

Just two years ago, the Carlton office block was 80% empty. It is now 80% full.

Transnet, which moved from its Parktown and Braamfontein offices in 1999, occupies 60% of Carlton's office space - still relatively cheap at R45/m². Other tenants include the Justice Department, attorneys, doctors, property consultants and a computer school.

Brink says one plan is to slowly revamp the hotel, starting with the adjoining 60-room Carlton Court. 'Once we have done that, we will move onto the main hotel and do it floor by floor,' he adds.

Another plan is to convert some of the rooms into residential accommodation for Transnet employees. And the Carlton's three floors of banquet rooms are ideal for conference facilities.

Brink says it would cost roughly R50-million for a total revamp.

There has been some initial interest in funding the refurbishment. But maintenance costs will be high and investors want accurate numbers before giving the proposition serious consideration.

Sunday Times

Publisher: Sunday Times
Source: Sunday Times

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